11/5/09 11:56 p.m.

OK, darn automatic transmissions and reading their fluid levels...

Car is a 2001 Saturn SL1 with automatic, 85K miles. Checking the ATF fluid per the manual, warm but not hot, the fluid on the dipstick is all frothy, so I don't know what level to read. The "solid fluid line" is below the add level, the froth extends over halfway up the "normal" level (consistent over multiple readings). Shift quality has been a little hesitant and not quite smooth. I've concluded that I need to be reading from the "solid fluid line" but I thought I'd toss it out there for the general populace. Automatic trannies have always been a little weird for me and I can always learn more.

Is the froth indicative of anything? Maybe time for a transmission service? Am I off base with adding some fluid?

Thanks a ton!


Don49 New Reader
11/6/09 9:04 a.m.

Add some fluid and re-check.

m4ff3w GRM+ Memberand Dork
11/6/09 9:13 a.m.

Automatics scare me.

My guess would be you need to add some more fluid.

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess SuperDork
11/6/09 9:33 a.m.

Frothy ATF == Something Ain't Right. Drain, refill, look for reason. Radiator bad? Could be dumping radiator fluid into ATF at the cooler. Something else going on? Dunno, but you need to figure out what it is or start looking for another Saturn.

TJ HalfDork
11/6/09 1:10 p.m.

The thread title would make a great PSA.

"Everyday all across America, younf children are exposed to frothy ATF. Although it can be a lot of fun with the slick feel, bright color, and the almost too fun to resist froth, frothy ATF presents a real and very hazardous danger to the children. According to a topic on the Grassroots Motorsports forum, frothey ATF prevents reading. Won't you join the fight against illiteracy and help us to eliminate frothy ATF from all Saturns? For just pennies a day you could help a child in needs parents afford a car with a manual transmission."

Something like that. (I know it doesn't help your problem - if it were me I think i would start by adding more fluid - don't overfill they don't like that.)

skruffy Dork
11/6/09 2:25 p.m.

Saturns have external trans filters, so services are oil change easy. I'd go ahead and do a filter and drain and fill and see if that solves your shifting problem.

If you're interested I've got an economy geared 5 spd with a newish clutch and all the parts to do the swap I'd let go cheap...

11/6/09 5:36 p.m.

Since I was doing an oil change anyway, I spent a while checking and re-checking the ATF level. "Frothy" was probably the wrong word to use, it just has bubbles in it. After reading both sides of the dipstick I concluded that the fluid is fine, even toward the full side. And while I was under there I noticed the "other" filter-looking object...

Skruffy, thanks for your comments. If the fluid level is indeed OK then something else is causing the slight strangeness in shift feel. I think you're right on target: it's time for me to learn how to change the fluid and filter in the tranny.

The ideal fix is, truly, exactly what you have: an economy-geared five speed. I'd love to (be able to) do that upgrade. Wife would be forced to finally master a manual, but whether she would forgive me for that is uncertain. If Ohio were closer to Arizona I'd drive over and fill you with beer and pizza until we got the swap done. If the tranny does fail I'll definitely look into the specifics of that swap.

It's funny, I grudgingly like this car. For the little it's worth in re-sale, there's no way we could equal its' fuel economy, cold air conditioning, and zero repairs in the last 1.5 years. I hope to bang another 60-80K miles on it over the next 3-4 years (wife has a long commute). But with a five speed it would get even better mileage and be a little bit more sprightly. And I wouldn't fight unwanted downshifts in the mountains.


ignorant SuperDork
11/6/09 6:02 p.m.

frothing fluid = fluid on its way out.

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